Spring 2017 Bulletin

Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education

Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education

With generous support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, led by Michael S. McPherson and Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., is conducting an analysis of American undergraduate education and looking ahead several decades at the educational challenges and opportunities facing Americans. The Commission will recommend, in its final report to be released this fall, a national strategy to improve and strengthen undergraduate education to meet the demands of the twenty-first century. This ambitious agenda is both timely and necessary as the country faces serious national and global tests that can be best met with a firm and coordinated commitment to undergraduate education. With over seventeen million undergraduates enrolling in more than 4,700 colleges and universities, some of the key facts informing the Commission’s considerations for the future include the following:

  • Almost 80 percent of undergraduates enroll in public colleges and universities;
  • One-half of all college students must take remedial (i.e., non-college level) classes;
  • Only 40 percent of students complete a bachelor’s degree within four years and less than 30 percent complete an associate degree or certificate within three years;
  • There is a lack of clarity and consistency with regard to the quality of the educational experiences available to students;
  • Students who do not graduate face the largest challenges of paying back their loans.

Prominent themes in the final report will include the quality of the educational experience, inequitable completion rates, college costs and affordability, and experimentation and innovation. The Commission’s recommendations will be directed toward colleges and universities; state and federal policy-makers; organizations that affect students’ pathways into college, such as K-12 systems and community services; and business and industry. The Commission’s work will also seek to contribute to the national discourse on undergraduate education. A national campaign to extend the impact of the Commission’s work will follow the release of the final report.

During the development of the final report and the drafting of the recommendations, Commission leadership continuously solicited feedback and suggestions from various individuals and organizations. The leadership team met with 22 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and/or their key legislative advisors; leaders from national higher education policy organizations, such as the State Higher Education Executive Offices and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems; and dozens of Academy Fellows around the country. Academy staff also facilitated student and faculty discussion groups at several institutions–such as LaGuardia Community College; the University of Texas, El Paso; Northeastern University; and Rasmussen College to gather their perspectives and discuss concerns about the future of American undergraduate education.

The Academy is currently developing a social media engagement strategy and will launch a campaign entitled “My Better Future,” which is designed to encourage current students and recent graduates to share video, photos, memes, and other social media posts of how they believe college will impact their futures, and why they care about going to college. This campaign, which will include the language that students use about college and their futures, will help inform the work of the Commission and establish a broader social media presence for the initiative.

In September 2016, the Commission published A Primer on the College Student Journey, which provides a data-rich portrait of how Americans access, pay for, and complete their postsecondary education. Four occasional papers, authored by national experts, are supporting the work of the Commission. Undergraduate Financial Aid in the United States by Judith Scott-Clayton (Teachers College, Columbia University) provides an overview of undergraduate financial aid–its motivations, its moving parts, and its controversies. The Complex Universe of Alternative Postsecondary Credentials and Pathways by Jessie Brown and Martin Kurzweil (both at Ithaka S+R) looks at the emerging innovations in postsecondary learning opportunities, identifies the growing diversity of providers and experiences, and explores the intersections between traditional undergraduate education and new models (for example, the U.S. Department of Education EQUIP pilot program).

Two forthcoming papers, which will be released this summer, will focus on improving college teaching practices and the impact on the economy of increasing educational attainment.

For more information about the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, please visit the Academy’s website at https://www.amacad.org/cfue.